My friend Daniel and I counted stars tonight, up on the roof of my building, linking the wine and food and non-sequiturs from dinner to the mysterious light those tiny dots were speaking to us. I wondered what stars are made of, and how they exist ~~ but, speaking with Daniel, a creative genius and gifted wordsmith, I remembered that stars are what we make of them, what we imagine....and I vaguely remember someone once saying, "To know ourselves, we must know the stars." So, after Daniel left, I remembered this Walt Whitman poem that explores the tension between the scientific world-view, the one we are taught in classrooms, and the poet's view, that passion for knowledge that you can find only outside of the classroom:
WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
That tension between intellect and emotion, the desperate search for the right combination of two such powerful forces, the disconcerting schism between active vs. passive learning, the discord between passionate exploration and sterile study, "connecting the prose and the passion" ~~ are all themes I think resonated through my weekend. Up on the roof, under the stars, Daniel said that the Latin root for passion is pati (and the Greek pathos): to suffer or endure. And I wondered how the modern definition of "passion" has come to mean "boundless enthusiasm" or "ardent love" ~~ how you define the word changes how you experience its essence ~~ the Buddha's Awakening describes this process. But mostly I thought about how passion sometimes feels like the difference between what "should be" and what "is" ~~ that's why people are passionate about justice or civil rights or love ~~ to suffer and desire and ache and want what "should be". And, you know, compassion then means "to suffer together" (com = together, pati = suffer). And often I feel compassion, but not in that suffering sense ~~ more in that "true, honest contact with another human being" sense. And so my weekend was a little bit about that.
My friend M. and I drive to Fresno to visit our good friend, Alegría ~~ whose name means "Happiness." Ale and I survived law school together, helping each other untangle that noose of the sterile Socratic method from around our necks, and using the rope to lead each other into uncharted territory ~~ creating more passionate, more creative, more challenging ways to learn the law we wanted to practice, and to serve the communities we are so passionate about. Ale, who is a Staff Attorney for CRLA, has deep roots in a family devoted to the passionate fight for social justice; often, I learn a lot just by being around her, in or out of the classroom ~~ like this weekend, spending two days with Ale and her Grandmother enjoying the Labor Day Weekend, a holiday founded by, and in honor of, "The Worker".
Ale's grandmother is Jessie de la Cruz, who was born in 1919 and who was five years old when she began working in the fields in California. In 1935, Jessie met the boy, another teen field worker, who would become her husband, Arnulfo De La Cruz ~~ they eloped three years later, had five children, and continued migrating up and down the San Joaquin Valley, working on farms and living in the labor camps with other campesinos. In 1965, Cesar Chavez was holding a meeting in the De La Cruz home ~~ he had already held several meetings there ~~ and Cesar asked Arnulfo, "Where is Jessie?" When Arnulfo explained that Jessie was in the kitchen, Cesar said, "She belongs here." And that night, before many of us were even born, Jessie joined La Causa, helping organize the National Farm Workers Association. Jessie is known as the UFW's first female organizer ~~ and as the "Quiet Hero" in the San Joaquin Valley.
I know all this about Jessie because I read the book Gary Soto wrote about her, Jessie De La Cruz: A Profile of a United Farm Worker. What I didn't learn in the book, I discovered this weekend, sitting around a table listening to Jessie's soft voice recount powerful memories while Mexican music played in the background. She told us how she still misses her husband every day ~~ he died suddenly of a heart attack 13 years ago ~~ and about her children, and then the funny story of how she met Pedro Infante, the famous Mexican artist and actor.....Infante was giving a concert in town but Jessie and her sister couldn't go because they had to stay in the fields ~~ later, before they left town, Infante went to the field where they were ~~ the only thing they had for him to autograph was a prayer book ~~ so, Infante signed the prayer book: "Yo soy Cathólico también!" ~~ Sunday morning, when the three of us came under attack by a single Japanese Beatle, Jessie grabbed a broom and rushed out to the back patio to save us as we screamed and ran around, laughing at our hysteria over such a big bug. Jessie, who turns 85 on September 13, is clearly stronger and faster and more fearless than all of us put together. If you don't already know about Jessie, read about her, and discover the history behind this "Quiet Hero."
The weekend theme of Heroes and Passion and Causes and Strong Women also floated through the movie we saw Sunday night ~~ "Hero," directed by Zhang Yimou, which has finally been released, three years after it was made. The story explores the interplay and the conflict between the sword and the heart ~~ the passion of defending one's ideals, the idea of a land without borders, the concept of a soul without constraint. The cinematography alone will make you cry ~~ the different primary colors used to tell each version of the story, the colors and light becoming more "real" as you reach the truth of the tale. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung, who were so amazing in "In The Mood for Love" are mesmerizing here as Broken Sword and Flying Snow ~~ I mean, you cannot take your eyes off of them. The distance between the sword and the heart is measured here in passion ~~ on the screen, in the color palette, in Chiu-Wai's eyes, in Cheung's crimson lips, and in the discussion you'll have after this movie.